early mourning

In the last year, much of his beard has lost its color and become shock white against his pale skin. His face is broader, cheeks hang flattened and deeply creased. His hands shake noticeably – a fact he seems to try to showcase, rather than conceal. I watch as he plays it up and then scans the table for a reaction.

I look quickly back at my own plate. I do not want to play this game. With this man I hardly recognize.

When he accuses his children of selling him out – amid rants about the government, his ex wife and the gun he keeps beneath his pillow – he grows stranger and stranger. From his mouth pours paranoia and self-pity and from his eyes, nothing. At times, the color grays out of them, leaving them pale and cloudy, like those of newborns and the dying.

I sit, pressing the tips of my fingernails into the flesh of my palm, trying not to feel the sickness that is ripping through my gut. Who are you… I think, searching for the familiar. And where did my father go?

Had we never met, I wouldn’t have found him alarming. Only unbalanced and odd, a statistic of an earlier war. But now he’s frightening and foreign.

One moment, he is calm and sentimental and the next, irrational and angry. His children – who were a sentence before, his heartbeat – are now cruel traitors in a plot to undermine and hurt him. I do not know whether to be furious or distraught. I do not make up my mind. Instead, I hiccup for the next several hours, my body unable to suppress the upset.

A year has made him a stranger. There are very few remnants of the man I knew in this man with the wiry mane and distant stare. In this profound absence, I feel as though there’s been a death. With so much loss to contend with, each new encounter becomes a small funeral. I find myself wearing sackcloth and ashes, and my emotions so close to the surface I’m sweating grief. And lacking a corpse, I’m forced instead to bury my expectations and my need for the way things were.

67 comments to early mourning

  • R2D2

    I’m sorry. Beautiful writing.

  • irises

    Wow. That is rough.

    The details may be different, but I’ve also lost my dad over the past few years. He’s not dead, but in many ways he seems dead to me.

    It is sad.

  • You have such emotion in your writing; it’s very moving. Hopefully he will get better in time and become himself again.

    Your new “friend,”


  • My thoughts are with you in this shared sentiment. Beautiful writing as always, and very emotional.

    Big internet hug to you :)


  • Amazing. Thank you for sharing this.

    It’s scary what one (myself) can take for granted. The disappointment hurts more than we (myself again) ever could have imagined especially when sometimes a girl (who has to be an adult woman) just wants her daddy.

    Your thoughts and feelings are conveyed so beautifully. It sucks that you have to experience this.

  • Luella

    Beautiful. I’ve come to terms with the same thing, over the last few years. It’s tough.

  • M

    I hate to know that you too have to experience the pain of having a parent not just fall from the pedestal we inevitably put them on; but to know that there is a sickness behind that we can not make better makes it that much harder. I am very sorry that this has been the catalyst for seeing the emotion return to your writing, just know that you are not alone. Thank you also for having the courage to put it into words when some of us are not able to.

  • Moni

    Thanks so much for posting this. I think anyone who has been forced to watch a loved one waste away, from whatever underlying problem, can identify with your situation. I am so grateful to see my own feelings shared with an eloquence I simply don’t possess. I’m sorry for your continuing loss but thank you anyway for being brave enough to share.

  • Stephanie

    Fish~I think this is one of your most beautifully written posts yet. Why are you not writing for a living?

    I get the hiccups when I am upset too. I know it is sad to see the deterioration of a loved one much less a father. No wonder you have been having the blues and fainting spells. Your only human, Try to hold on to the memories and not take his unkind words to heart. You know that the man you know is deep inside there somewhere and he loves you very much.

    I hope that you find a sense of peace from those who love you.

  • Ever since my mother left my father a few years ago, he seems a hollow shell of the man he used to be. Wakes up angry and depressed. Had nothing to look forward to. It’s really sad and it so unbelieveably upsetting to bare witness to it. I’m sorry.

  • Kim

    I was touched by the haunting beauty of your words, yet deeply saddened by the situation. Having lost a father to cancer that attacked his brain and body leaving him a shell of his former self, I feel your pain and pray for your peace.

  • This man needs help and is screaming for it. I am not an expert….but he may need medical attention. Sounds bi-polar or manic-depressive. Help him regain who he was…it will be hard.

  • Liza

    My Dad did the same thing-he suffered through Alzheimers and then cancer…a few months made a huge difference to his personality. Strength to you, I know it’s difficult.

  • This Fish

    Mary, I am sure you’re trying to be helpful, but jesus christ, give the rest of us some credit. My father is a vietnam vet who receives intensive thereapy, is on anti-psychotics and all that. No, you’re not an expert. He’s not bi-polar; he’s a paranoid schizophrenic who also suffers from PTSD. He will not regain who he was, no matter how much help he receives. You don’t know from hard.

  • goldfish

    i feel the same way w/ my daddy… we never ever about life’s drama or our family for that matter… nice writing…

  • lawyerchik1

    I’m so sorry!!

  • I hear you about the mini-funerals. Experienced a similar thing with my grandmother a few years ago. Beautifully written though. Besides this, I hope spring well.

  • Diane

    Fish, I’m so sorry. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for you. Or your mom & siblings. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

  • Bill

    Your sorrow haunts me.

    Love and cherish the man who loved and cherished you. Protect yourself from this stranger as your father would protect you if only he could.

    Keep swimming, Fish. You seem to have found a school here.

  • Ari

    Sweetie… you need to shut me up sometimes and talk more yourself. I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize how things had spiraled.

  • Fish,

    I don’t know if this is any consolation, but I teach about the pressures and hardships of Vietnam Vets each year via a book called “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. My students always feel it is the book that had the most impact on them. The novel teaches sensitivity towards vets and my students come away from reading it both enlightened and empathetic. The irony? A man I love is to be deployed to Iraq in a few weeks. So many things scare me about him going, including ptsd. Thanks for sharing this post.

  • Tan

    I experienced a similar situation with my Dad…it’s horribly unfair and is gut wrenching on so many levels, and there’s not much anyone can say or do to make it better…beautifully & honestly written

  • Tender and heartbreaking. I shed a tear for you.

  • shanteuse

    Me too..

    If only there were a way to protect our parents from becoming hollow and unhappy people, emotionally burdening their children so. It reminds me to keep myself growing, searching, improving, and not letting the years whittle away what I am now or was before. Or something like that, better said by someone else.

  • Delilah

    I only read the first couple of posts and i wsih you all would stop using the word beautiful. Fish as obviously been going threw somethings with her dad and he is sick. Give her a shoulder, dont be her reviewer

  • Tara

    I feel for what you’re going through. There’s no instruction, no manual and very little consolation. After watching someone deteriorate in a similar way, all I can say is there’s no right way to handle it. It’s impossible and yet, you’re forced to deal with it- in any way you can.

    I’ll be thinking of you knowing that somehow, all those witnessing transformations such as this are not alone.

  • maya

    very moving article. good luck…

  • It seems almost worse when the person you love is gone, yet the body is still there. My grandfather’s Alzheimers turned him into a person I didn’t know. Witnessing his horribly angry outburst made me long for the man with a twinkle in his eye who always had flavored “Certs” in his pocket for me. BTW – next time you’re in Utah, e-mail me…we’ll find bookstores to say the F-word in :)

  • H,

    I lost my mother almost 10 years ago to cancer. It was too soon for her to go. She was my father’s whole life, and he’s never recovered. He was forever changed by this event. He lost his life 10 years ago although he’s still with us today. Now, the loss of my mother coupled with debilitating emphysema has left him a withered man, someone barely resembling the rock I once knew. It’s always been hard seeing him this way, but over the course of time it’s gotten a little less hard. We adjust to things. I hope you find that to be true for you. I also take solace in my many great memories of my father. Something I love about my blog is that I get to recount good times and share them with people; my family, friends, strangers. I’m not going to pretend I know you and what’s best for you, but maybe giving the pleasant times from the past some attention will make the present situation a little easier to bear. I know it helps me.

    Thank you for sharing yourself with us in blogland, H. Be well.


  • You are in my thoughts. I am a therapist who works with teenagers and I’ve worked with kids who are going through a similar thing as you. It’s the hardest thing to slowly lose the person you love. You never get to say goodbye but have to do so every time you see them. Hugs to you!

  • You and your family are in my prayers. I can’t imagine going through that with my dad, as watching a ‘strong’ person we’ve depended upon grow ‘weak’, there are not words to explain. There are no words available to offer, except God bless. Good luck to you, as my ‘ex’ had PTSD after his last deployment, and he has never been the same, so I can relate to having someone you love and depend upon, be ‘gone’.

    May God give you strength.

  • B.

    Thank you for sharng something so personal with us. It must be so difficult for you and your family. I cannot even imagine. I know I cannot do anything concrete for you but you’ve done something for me.

  • I find myself wanting to reach out to you. I’m sure that your blog here isn’t designed to seek support and well wishes. I presume that it’s more about you needing to say it rather than needing someone to hear it. I, of course, accept that I could be wrong in this.

    And we (I) feel that in watching your life through your words, we (I) feel as if we (I) share your emotions, the things you say trigger our (my) own emotions and fears. When we (I) feel for you, we (I) are (am) actually accepting that we (I), through our (my) own experiences, suffer the same pain and hurt that you do, and reach out as we (I) would want to be reached out to.

    Here, have a slice of pie.

  • What a beautifully written, heart-breaking post. I’m sorry for the pain you are going through.

    Strength to you.

  • Your writing blows me away some days. What and excellent post. My condolences to you for losing the man your father once was.

  • Cathryn


    I love your writing and this particular post was really something. I lost my father a year ago this month and my mother had passed away two months before. He had a debilitating brain injury for the last seven months of his life. He could not speak english sentences and he had to be put into a critical care nursing home which wasn’t really near where I lived. It was very hard on everyone but I was glad I got to tell him one last time that I loved him on the day he died. I empathize with the pain you are experiencing and send you much love.


  • It is been almost a dejavu feeling when I read this post. I have recently felt the same way about my father. From one moment to another, he gave up being a father (or the lack of it for many years) to become a prosecutor in a trial, in which I was already convicted. Very sad, he is dead to me now.

  • Lori

    I am not going to say I know what you’re going through- I don’t and I am sorry that anyone has to see the deterioration of their foundation- your parents. I think, though, that when you hear him start to berate/be mean to you and your siblings- that is his sickness talking. His heart is the one who is saying you all are his heartbeat. And I am sure you are. So just try to think -as hard as it may be- that in spite of what he may be saying that you all are the reaon he can cope with his illness as much as he can. I hope that helps and know that all of your readers feel sympathy for your situation.

    And maybe it helps you to know that you are an inspiration to the thousands of readers you have. I read your words as often as you post them and you have the awesome ability to write your heartfelt emotion for the rest of us to relate to.

  • Ben

    I just recently began reading your blog, thank my gf, and I work in a retirement community, and this seriously sounds like the first stages of alzheimers. Please, if you haven’t, go get him to a doctor and checked out, please.

  • jayna

    re-read fish’s comment and you’ll see that her father “is a vietnam vet who receives intensive thereapy, is on anti-psychotics and all that.He’s not bi-polar; he’s a paranoid schizophrenic who also suffers from PTSD”.

    no matter how similar a situation you might have had in your own life, your career, your expericen – each one is different. Fish – i won’t even pretend to know what you’re going through.lean on your real life friends. Readers – give the girl a break. She hasn’t asked for our advice, so don’t lend it. she’s going through something you and i can not imagine and sharing what i wouldn’t be able to. be strong fish.

  • I can not imagine what you are going through, I am so sorry for your pain. I have never had a family member go through the pain and experiences your father is suffering with, nor have I personally dealt with a loss of person such that you are coping with. The sympathies and support of yet another reader go out to you.

  • Heather,

    What’s to say? A big hug from me to you

  • Floridagal

    Fish, a very big hug from my side. be strong and loving

  • We both post about our fathers and our posts couldn’t be much different. I’m sorry little Fish. :(

  • coco

    my best wishes that you can remain strong in this…

  • n

    I’m not a doctor, but I’ve made out with one. And since you are asking for my advice, I have to tell you, I’m pretty sure this guy might not be completely healthy. He probably has a headache. That can make people pretty grumpy. Why won’t you give this man some asprin? Don’t you even care?!

    Ha! Just kiddin’ big sis. I love you, you are very pretty, and I’m glad you still write for you.

    Now let us make like New Kids and hang tough.

  • I’m sorry to hear of this. I’ll keep your family in my thoughts.

  • K

    Wow. It’s so hard to come to that point when you find real and true faults with your parents, not just imagined–but actually flaws that you yourself do not possess and you know its too late for them to. Really great, salient and heartbreaking post.

  • Fish-

    This is so beautifully written. I’m so sorry to hear about your father–you and your family are in my thoughts.

  • Heather-

    I am sorry. I watched my grandmother leave us a year before her body did. It was horrible

  • Fish – I constantly worry that I will lose my parents before they die. I worry that my children will become unknown to their grandparents. i worry that their minds – now so sharp – will deteriorate. that they won’t be themselves.

    i feel your pain and your loss. i mourn with you. your writing can help you heal.


  • Dana H

    It sounds like a lot of us can relate in some respect to your beautiful post today. Although I read it as terrific writing, my heart went out to the real life situation you are dealing with. Like others, I lost my father (brain cancer) and watched him leave his body before he passed away. The type of cancer he had made him paranoid and he was just all over out of it. Sad sight and I miss him very much – even today. Thank you for sharing and I am glad to see a wonderful community here supporting you. Thanks for letting us in. ~Dana in Chicago (warm hugs to you)

  • Because of previous comments, I hesitated to compliment your beautiful writing in my last post.

    I read today’s DC post and your comment. I now know that you appreciate the kind words about your writing.

    Heather, your writing is always perfect. You either touch my funny bone or touch my heart. Keep it up.

  • My father was an alcoholic who died when I was 13. His disease changed him incrementaly and fundamentaly until it killed him. By the end he was not the man who used to toss me in the air and tickled my tummy.

    It’s impossible for me to truly understand how you feel, although the eloquence of your writing allows me to pretend that I do.

    I do however think that my experience relates somewhat to yours and allows me to say that your situation sucks, bites, blows and is all-round shitty.

    Courage Fish and keep writing. Shared pain is lessened and shared joy is increased, both for the giver and the receiver. Thank you for sharing.

  • Wow, nice entry…I mean, even though it’s horrifying and depressing, I can totally relate. Most of my relatives are like that, and they aren’t even senile. Sorry to hear about your loss, but I’m sure his life was great…and you’ll see him again, somewhere…

  • Wow.

    I’m very sorry, Heather. This must be so hard for you.

  • Teresa

    Oh Fish… I teared up–I felt that way for so long with my own dad. And in a fit of frustration with him I thought to myself “oh why don’t you just go already!” And then one day…he did…it was quick and totally unexpected, and I have regretted having had that thought every single day since. Someone above said to cherish him–no matter how much it pains your heart to do it now, please do. Living with the regret of having not done so while he was here with you hurts more after he’s gone than the grief of having lost him does.

  • Dee

    Thank you for such a beautiful post.It may have evoked some hurt,sadness and pain but it reminded me (at least) to realise some things in life,you can’t control.Most importantly,to cherish the ones you love,no matter how hard.Thank you again.

  • My heart goes out to you (and him)… Thanks for sharing so honestly though.

  • Fish, I have been reading your posts but since I am suddently alone, didn’t really think I could respond effectively to any of them because you are a beautiful young woman with many loves and special men et.al. However, I scanned your listing and found this one: your scenario with your Dad is the one which played out in my house for many, many years to me and our three daughters; due to serious injuries, consequent surgeries, constant pain meds and the result was a wonderful man who was my soulmate for the first 15 years of my life and the last ten he was a duplicate of the one whose gaze you averted your eyes from. The Daddy who we never knew which personality he would pull out of the daily life closet–would he make sense, would he threaten, or would he suddently shine and be so charming it would break our hearts knowing this unfortunate side would dissipate as quickly as it appeared.Inside he tried to stay alive for us. Jun 6, 2005 he lost the battle and we lost him. The love&pain go on.

  • chaoticbliss

    Do you realize you just told the story of my father…and his insanity…and my relationship with him…good god woman. you just made my year. If I could hug you.

  • phoenix

    I’ve yet to find another writer whose every word stirs me the way yours do.

    I am sorry for your…….loss.

  • Wow can only sum up how your writing makes me feel. I found you early this morning laughing at your latest post and the comments received and then stumbled upon this beautiful piece of writing and I cried as I can only imagine what your going through but your words make it oh so real.

  • j.m.

    thank you for this…

    alcoholism and addiction has done the same thing to my father…the hardest thing in the world is watch someone you love slipping away…a barely recognizable shadow of person they once were.

    my tears, my pain, my heart…goes out to everyone who experiences such loss.

  • Bill said:

    “Protect yourself from this stranger as your father would protect you if only he could.”

    -This one thought that I’ve been repeating to myself over and over again for three years now. No matter how upset & depressed I get about seeing my dad become the way he is now, I can’t and won’t want to give up on the happy memories we had when he was still healthy. Although I fear the memories are not as vivid anymore. Pain seems to creep its way into fading the memories slowly… :(

  • Aimee

    I have read this post many times and it still brings tears to my eyes, thank you for your honesty and the beauty of your writing

  • Suz

    I’ve read this so many times and never got past the first paragraph without tears. This post makes me feel safe,safe because you put in words so well how I feel about my father. And everything that scares me about him, its all here.